Three Iraq combat veterans from Colorado have launched themselves on a new kind of mission abroad: fighting poverty as civilians. Discharged this year from the Quebec Battery, 5th Battalion, 14th Regiment of the 4th Marine Division, a reserve unit based at Buckley Air Force Base, the three are devoting themselves to humanitarian aid projects in Asia and Africa. A fourth is setting up a domestic violence support service he will pursue when he leaves the Marine Corps. “After you’ve experienced the world at its worst, it seems to be a natural instinct to want to make it better,” said Cpl. Brenton Hutson, 24, a Wheat Ridge High School graduate who joined the military at age 17 and served in Ramadi and Fallujah in 2006 during the worst of Iraq’s sectarian war. National veterans group leaders say the jump from combat to humanitarian aid is becoming common as Americans return from war and want more than a comfortable domestic existence.
This Denver Post article was written by Kevin Simpson with Michael Riley, Bruce Finley and Craig F. Walker.
A Denver Post team follows a local teenager through his military training to a volatile industrial and agricultural hub in south-central Iraq.
Local-hire Iraqi interpreters maimed during U.S. combat missions can’t fathom why the nation won’t pay for the high-tech prosthetics.
Maimed Iraqi interpreters showing up in U.S. cities such as Denver wonder why nobody — neither the government nor its contractors — is assuming long-term responsibility for them and hundreds of other seriously wounded interpreters who served U.S. forces in Iraq.
Consider the case of Diyar al-Bayati, who risked his life as the eyes and ears for soldiers on more than 200 combat missions, coaxing suspicious Iraqis, forging alliances and — beyond his interpreter duties — regularly taking up arms to fight alongside U.S. troops. When a roadside bomb in a 2006 ambush blew off his legs, al-Bayati kept firing at his unit’s attackers until he lost consciousness.
Today fellow refugees ferry al-Bayati around Salt Lake City, hoisting him in and out of a van. The military won’t pay for maimed interpreters to get the same high-tech prosthetics provided to U.S. soldiers. Al-Bayati, 22, has learned America may give only limited citizenship, housing and medical treatment.
“They say ‘limited,’ ” he said. “Why was our service in Iraq not ‘limited’? When they asked us to do missions, we didn’t say: ‘Our job is limited.’ ”
Yet al-Bayati acknowledges he’s lucky, one of a dozen or so wounded interpreters who’ve found shelter in U.S. cities including Denver. Hundreds more are hiding or running for their lives in Iraq and neighboring Jordan.
As much as 15 percent of the U.S. Paralympic team will be drawn from the 31,000 men and women disabled by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Out of the carnage of roadside bomb blasts in Iraq, U.S. Paralympics recruiters are finding new competitors for world-class sports in Beijing and beyond. Foremost among those heading to China this summer: Army 1st Lt. Melissa Stockwell. She made her first mark on history four years ago when she became the war’s first female combat amputee. Now she has etched a new distinction as the first disabled Iraq war veteran to qualify for this summer’s Games in China.